Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Could King's words in his letter from Birmingham Jail possibly read more true today?  It can be read in its entirety here.  Particularly poignant excerpts below.  I know that it's long, and that in a world where we tend to not take time to read things beyond a few sentences, and expect our news and inspiration to fit on a meme, that it is unlikely that many will take the time to read even the excerpts below, but I beg you to.  I beg you to listen to his words and let them bounce around in your soul.  Let them shape your thinking and actions.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn't this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn't this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn't this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God's will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber. I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: "All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth." Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.


Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: "Get rid of your discontent." Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist.
I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still all too few in quantity, but they are big in quality.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Racism, and what it doesn't look like

The national conversation surrounding race right now has been divisive and ugly.  It's brought out powerful emotions all over the country.  It has created leaders, shown a lot of people's true colors, and often left me teetering in the middle of not wanting to speak for people of color (a group for which I don't claim membership), but also needing to be an ally and speak up for the sake of my children of color.

A large part of the current conversation is whether or not law enforcement is racist.  It's a complex concept and conversation that brings out defensiveness from those who wear the uniform and pain from those who have felt injustice at the hands of law enforcement because of the color of their skin.

No one (well, mostly no one) wants to be called a racist.  Because when we think of racists we think of the KKK, people posting on social media about how much they hate Black people, or maybe refusing to associate with people of color.  We have a caricature of what a racist is, and if a person doesn't fit that, then they must not be racist.

What we are denying and ignoring are our internalized biases and institutionalized racism.  The things that happen in the inside of our heads that may never overtly see the light of day, but are there.  They influence out emotions, how we treat people, and how we think about others.  They are why you may be more nervous to be out walking at night and see a group of Black teens walking toward you than you are when it's a group of White teens.  It's why you have no trouble using the word thug, and defending it's use.  It's why you indignantly ask where a specific leader (usually Al Sharpton) in the Black community is when there's a shooting involving gangs or children, but get upset when the same leader shows up when there is a crime committed that smells of racism.

It's why I get annoyed when I see people gush over news stories of a White cop doing something overtly kind to a Black child.  Because if we didn't all understand that these racist thoughts and emotions exist inside of all of us, that wouldn't be news.  And that?  Doing something sweet for a Black child or teen?  Is not an example of someone not being racist.  It's not an example that police don't have racist policies and behaviors.  It's an example of being human.  Of having biases about a people group, but being willing to show kindness to a member of that people group when the opportunity presents itself.



So can we not act like a police officer being nice to a Black child is some kind of grand gesture?  Something to be applauded?  Being nice to my child is not hard.  Not applause worthy.

Want to make a grand gesture police officers and those who love them?  Want to show that you ACTUALLY care about him?  Follow in this guy's footsteps.

Credit: WWHATS UP?! Pittsburg

Because hugging my kid when he's little and cute won't keep me from having to bury him when you decide he's big and scary.  Just another Black teen, mistaken for a man, in the inner city up to no good, of course.

Stop the feel good stories and the hugging, and combat that reality instead.

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